ENC Regional News
12:12 am
Tue August 28, 2007

Following the hog waste lagoon moratorium... what's next?

Replacing the lagoon-and-spray field system on N-C hog farms

New Bern, NC – INTRO - The past General Assembly session saw passage of Senate Bill 1465, which takes a series of moratoriums issued over the past 10 years on the construction of new hog waste lagoons and makes it permanent. But while hog waste lagoons won't increase in number, they may not decrease much in number in the near future. George Olsen has more.

In May 2005 the possibility of a lagoon-free hog farm seemed almost in reach with the debut of a closed-loop waste system at Little Creek Hog Farms in Ayden. As the system was unveiled there was still plenty of work to be done before it was viable for everyday use. But on that day, the system's creator, Don Lloyd of Environmental Technologies, touted its benefits a savings of up to 35% of the water a farmer would typically pull from an aquifer, plus the closed-loop system made the liquid waste human potable, a fancy way of saying safe for drinking. For the assembled reporters, Don Lloyd dipped a jug into the recycled water and took a healthy swallow. He invited me to take a swig as well.

07:50 There. That's pig water. 08:10 Tastes like water

For the record, it wasn't the best water I'd tasted, but better than water from some city systems I've had the experience of drinking. Over two years later, Don Lloyd's system is still operating at Little Creek but so is the lagoon and spray field.

02:32 We're very pleased that the goals that we set out to achieve have been achieved, and we have produced potable water and purified flush water and see very clearly the potential to eliminate a lagoon and spray field system completely through the use of this system.

Chuck Stokes, the owner and operator of Little Creek Hog Farms of Ayden. He says in the past two years, the closed-loop system has operated about six months. He says after two years of off-and-on operation, the concept is on solid footing. But as with most all new technology, what looks good on paper sometimes doesn't perform in real-life usage.

16:55 We've not been able to generate enough flush water to keep the flush gutters clean. We've also had problems with water pressure. As we feed the potable water back into the water line and mix it with fresh water, that problem has been alleviated. However, we feel like enlargement of our flush water capacity and production and holding would enhance our system in regards to the amount of times we could flush a day.

He says as currently configured they can flush their hog barns up to six times a day but eight is preferable. But flush gutters aside, the biggest hurdle for any new waste removal system will be cost how comparable is it to the old lagoon and spray field?

12:49 So expense wise, cost-wise, its taken a while to get it down to the area that's comparable financially to a lagoon and spray field and we've done that, potentially. The electric utility requirements are affordable. We have a situation now where it's very much in line with the operation of a lagoon and spray field.

But that's not true of all the technologies being looked at to replace waste lagoons. Mike Williams is co-ordinator of Waste Management Programs at the NC State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

08:39 The range of cost relative to what the unit cost would be for the current permitted lagoon/spray-field system which we also had to determine in this process, the range in cost was approximately 1.5 to as much as 5 times higher.

Williams says he's looked at fifteen projects over the last five-plus years and found five that met environmental standards set by the General Assembly and they were in the upper range of predicted cost. New waste systems have to meet benchmarks in five criteria odor emissions, ammonia emissions, pathogens, heavy metals and nutrient impact to ground water. The Little Creek system didn't quite meet those standards. But it was close, which is why Williams refers to it as technology on the bubble.

08:39 Now, some of those technologies, although they did not meet the environmental criteria, were very close, were much closer to that 1.5 to 2 times the cost of the lagoon/spray field system, and that's why my position has been we really need to be focusing on not only getting the cost down of the technologies that met the environmental criteria, but incorporating value engineering based on what we learned to improve the performance standards of the technologies that were on the bubble because they were so much closer on economic feasibility.

But if the standard for economic feasibility is whether a new technology can be operated at the same cost as the old, Williams doesn't see it happening.

12:24 The lagoon & spray field system is a system that is relatively inexpensive and relatively easy to operate. It is a system that was designed and permitted based on existing standards, environmental standards. And those standards relative to what the General Assembly has established for the new performance standards includes only one to, you could argue, two of those five standards. So once you increase the requirements for environmental performance, it is not reasonable to expect that you can develop technologies that are going to be the same cost for meeting fewer performance standards.

Toward the end of helping farmers adopt the more expensive new systems, Senate Bill 1465 included monies to help out eligible farmers. Duplin County state Senator Charlie Albertson was the primary sponsor of the bill.

00:40 It would provide some cost-share dollars I believe 90% the first year to small growers and producers who may want to put in new systems that meet all the superior technology standards. The purpose of that from my perspective would be to see if we can get some of the systems in the field to see if we can lower the cost because at the present time they're not economically feasible for our farmers to use them.

The state is providing two-million dollars and the federal government half-a-million a start, but short of the ten-million Chuck Stokes says he was hoping to see the bill include. Senator Albertson admits it wasn't enough but adds it'll take the program at least a year to get running, at which point the General Assembly could allocate more funds. But even if money is poured into the program, Stokes points out there are numerous waste lagoons in the state, and if the goal is to remove them all, it won't happen overnight.

23:46 There are 4000 lagoons in NC, 2400 which are active, and in order to undo or to replace those, the old farms are going to have to phase them out and new farms will have to be implemented. Though a 3-to-5 year time is crucial for that development, a full 10 years I believe is going to be required to fully move away from liquid waste application.

I'm George Olsen.